ICAC resigns in frustration over law changes which ‘damaged’ anti-corruption work

South Australia’s anti-corruption chief Ann Vanstone KC has abruptly resigned and released a lengthy statement criticising politicians for changes to the ICAC Act which limited her office’s powers, saying she has “no confidence” issues she has raised with the legislation will be addressed.

Jul 09, 2024, updated Jul 09, 2024
Ann Vanstone KC. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Ann Vanstone KC. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Vanstone, the state’s second Independent Commissioner Against Corruption who was appointed on July 27, 2020, announced today that she would be resigning her position four years into her seven-year term.

Her resignation will be effective on September 6, 2024.

In a statement released a short time ago, Vanstone said a number of factors prompted her resignation, “some personal, but most professional”.

She sharply criticised controversial changes to the ICAC Act which passed state parliament in 2021 with unanimous support from all political parties.

“The 2021 amendments to the legislation governing public integrity in South Australia damaged the scheme, under the guise of making it more ‘effective and efficient’,” Vanstone said today.

“I have been saying this since before the amendments passed and have had reason to continue to say it.”

The 2021 law changes saw ICAC’s wings clipped, with the office given jurisdiction to investigate only matters of serious and systemic corruption.

Misconduct and maladministration was restricted to the State Ombudsman, while the Office of Public Integrity was moved out of the ICAC’s jurisdiction.

“In essence, the public interest is not served by narrowing the definition of corruption, or by isolating the Commission from the intelligence sources constituted by all complaints and reports, or by completely divorcing us from the prosecution process so that we are unable to assist a prosecution,” Vanstone said.

“Absurdly, we are not even allowed to speak to the prosecutor, meaning they are denied access to the expertise and knowledge of Commission investigators who best know the matter.”

Vanstone has been a consistent opponent of the laws, speaking out against them while they were being debated in parliament as being designed to protect politicians from scrutiny. She also expressed frustration about the changes when they were enacted.

The new laws limited the ICAC’s capacity to make public statements about ongoing corruption investigations.

“The public interest is not served by gagging us to ensure we cannot comprehensively share with the community what we know about integrity issues in South Australian public administration,” she said.

“On multiple occasions I have pointed out the significant problems within the scheme to this Government and the last, and to the parliamentary committee that oversees us.

“It is not that the legislation is wholly unworkable, but it does need to be as robust and effective as possible.

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“I have not asked for the previous scheme to be restored. I have recommended modest reform and an independent review of the amendments to see how effective they are.

“My words have fallen on deaf ears.

“I hope the next Commissioner will succeed where I have failed.”

Vanstone said she stayed in her role “despite my frustrations” because “I perhaps naively expected that the weaknesses and issues I have identified would be addressed”.

“That has not happened and I have no confidence that it would, even if I stayed until the end of my term,” she said.

Vanstone also made an apparent reference to the case of former Liberal Party MP Fraser Ellis.

Ellis was last week found guilty on four counts of deception following an ICAC investigation into his use of parliament’s country members’ allowance.

Under the 2021 changes to the ICAC Act, Ellis may be eligible to have his legal fees reimbursed by taxpayers.

“[The public interest] is not served when the public is required to pay the legal fees of those convicted of an offence, simply because they were investigated by the Commission,” Vanstone said.

Attorney-General Kyam Maher said in a statement that the government has been advised of Vanstone’s resignation.

“The Government thanks Commissioner Vanstone for her service over the last 4 years, and will commence recruitment of a new Commissioner in the coming weeks,” Maher said.

Vanstone’s full statement can be read here.

Topics: ICAC
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